Weekend Thoughts

It was a good weekend, time for a model railroad show and a classical concert here on the island. But a couple of thoughts occurred that seem worth sharing.

Our mythologies tell us that man has been given stewardship over nature — and because we see ourselves as separate from the natural world, all of our (generally) destructive reshaping of it is ok.  The loss of species is just acceptable collateral damage… And the world is a huge place to people who had to walk out of Africa (all of us). So when we messed up or exhausted one part of it we could walk to another part and start over. And since we fancied ourselves as the top level predator on the planet (and mostly we are) there was nothing besides ourselves and our messes to keep us in check. (See previous comments about walking away…).

But the rub is that we have cluttered up and despoiled a very large portion of the world. Any walking away will have to be done with rockets (or somesuch) and quite frankly there doesn’t appear to be any other desirable real estate in the neighborhood. So we are stuck here for the moment and must face the consequences of our choices.

And this includes getting our noses rubbed in the fact that we are a part of nature, not something apart. The air we breath comes from the trees, grasses and oceanic algae that we are busy cutting down, paving over and polluting. Intensive agriculture has its own side effects — the land can only be pummeled for so long before forcing it to produce more crops loses its effectiveness. Climate change is inevitable because of human greed and short-sightedness (just look around). The only good side of climate change, if there is one, is that large swaths of Canada and Siberia will become more inviting while Florida and many seaside places get drowned.

Closely related to this was the second thought — the resurgence of anti-nuclear hysteria and the impact of further hindering development. I guess the problem is that we are no where near desperate enough to actually face the nuclear genie and wrestle him into submission. There is still lots of bucolic rural landscape to cover with wind turbines (pretending to be green) and plenty of natural gas to burn to provide the real power we need as a civilization. And coal, and wood and… meanwhile, we are still actively wrecking the planet and making it harder to get rid of the toxins we produce. Sigh…

With prior major technological changes the move forward was driven by desperation. We either ran short of something that we were happy with as a solution or found the side effects from our solution too overwhelming. Think electricity and petroleum vs whale oil and horses, sewers and municipal water supplies, etc. There are still too many solutions for providing the energy we need to really get serious about nuclear. That the Japanese were using a forty year old reactor with known problems and had been dodging inspections is not really surprising. They are not the only ones who recognize the need for the technology but don’t really want to come to grips with the issues.

And the terminology we use is also suggestive of tunnel vision. We talk about carbon footprint but exclude the cost of production. Has anyone really thought about the huge energy input it takes to make solar cells or the vast piles of concrete used in industrial wind turbines? And the byproducts of nuclear fission we call waste and worry about how to get rid of it. Would it appear to be the same kind of a problem if we sought to find uses for materials that on their own will be releasing energy for decades if not centuries? What could that do for us?

And conservation just won’t cut it, not for the long term. The history of mankind back to the Rift Valley is one of creating a series of civilizations based on increased energy production and utilization. But we need to face up to two things — we are part of this planet and need to take better care of it for our own survival. And if we want to continue developing a civilization, finding ways of producing more intense sources of energy is essential. The pity is that all we need to do is want to.


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